Go West Young Man… Tips for a First Time Elk Hunter from the Midwest

I grew up hunting coyotes and deer in Iowa. After college I moved west and started chasing elk. Though I struggled at first, over time I adapted to Western hunting. This post provides a few tips for Midwestern and Eastern hunters planning a trip to the mountains this fall. Thank you for reading.

Time

Quit your job. Divorce your wife. Give away your goldfish. Take as much time off as you can. Hunters don’t realize the number of hours they invested in shooting whitetail. Many of us sat in a stand every weekend through high school just to hang a couple bucks on the wall. By comparison, most hunters only have a week to harvest an elk. I’ve heard, “We didn’t find bulls until the last day.” too many times. It takes experience to learn an area and begin to understand elk. Every day you’ll be a better hunter than the day before and have better odds at success. So get as many days in as you can.

Environment

Other hunters will choose the same spot as you. That’s new for flatlanders used to private land. Don’t worry too much about crowded trailheads. For the most part, hunters stay close to roads and trails. If you wake up early to hike in, you can usually beat the crowds.

The terrain will cause more pain than giving away Goldy. Obviously lower elevation will provide some relief, but hunting in the mountains demands respect no matter what. Because of the tough country it will take forever to drive or hike anywhere. An eight mile drive to a camp spot may take an hour an cost a new transmission. Don’t grow impatient with yourself or the elk. 

Stay Positive

While some hunts seem like you’re constantly on the verge of success (whitetail and antelope), elk hunting can feel like searching for a needle in a hay stack. I once had an experienced elk hunter tell me, “Walk around in the West long enough and eventually you’ll run into an elk.” As dumb as that sounds, it’s probably the best advice I was given my first year. As you cover more ground you’ll learn what habitat feels “elky” and increase your odds of success. Keep after it, and stay positive.

Conclusion

In the Midwest many factors fall within your control. You know exactly how long it will take to reach the stand, and you don’t need a GPS to walk across a bean field. Your first trip west will feel haphazard. Between the weather, the terrain and other hunters, the unknown variables can be overwhelming. I have had many climbing, fishing, and hiking trips where it felt like I spent most of my time just figuring out where I was located. Remember that very few hunts go exactly as planned, and setbacks will create a better story in the end.

Remind yourself that you’re out there to have fun, and that it’s an incredible opportunity to hunt in the mountains. Enjoy time with friends, and don’t take yourself too seriously. If you have the determination to sit in a tree stand in November you can hike in the mountains in September.

Good luck,

Stu

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